Located near the western coast of Lake Nicaragua, the city of Granada was founded in 1524 by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernandez de Cordoba as the first colonial settlement in Nicaragua. Named after the historical Moorish city in Spain itself, Granada echoes many of the stylistic dualities of its Old World sister city.
One is struck by the contrasting nature of old and new when exploring the city. Pastel-colored colonial buildings line the narrow streets, and at the intersections you'll find electrical poles covered in advertisements and flyers. In the central square, horse-drawn carriages line up neatly in single file, emblazoned with the logos of the country's two most popular phone companies.
Rebuilt a handful of times since its original construction in 1534, the Iglesia de la Merced stands as a monument to the resilience of the city and the dedication of its people to preserving their own history and culture. From the top of the clock tower, visitors can see a 360° view of the city, stretching all the way from Lake Nicaragua to the Mombacho Volcano.
Granada is undoubtedly one of Nicaragua's busiest tourist destinations, attracting vendors of all stripes. While you will likely not be surprised by the occasional purveyor of fine eyewear, you may blink twice at the gentlemen walking around town with huge bundles of cash in hand. These coyotes, as they are popularly known, provide independent currency exchanges at rates that are often better than the local banks.
Of course, aside from being a tourist hot spot, Granada is home to about 120,000 Nicaraguans. On the weekends, many locals are content to find a good seat somewhere in the city center and watch as flocks of tourists go by, taking in the sights and sounds of this slice of Spanish colonial history.